This week is International Dark Sky Week designated by the International Dark Sky Association. It is a time to discover the wonders of the Night Sky along with raising awareness of light pollution and the importance of protecting our views of the night for generations to come.
Did you know light pollution affects over 80% of people on earth and is growing at alarming rates each year? Or that that the satellites in orbit are expected to increase by 100,000 within ten years?
As light pollution and a more modern problem of mega satellite constellations, continues to increase year over year, it is essential that we recognize the importance of the night sky and protect the ability to see it. As a night photographer, I have a passion for the night sky and feel it is important to continue to promote and educate around dark sky awareness. However the night sky is not essential just for viewing purposes, darkness plays an essential role in ecosystems, animal migrations and human development. Dark Sky is an important and essential part of life that must be protected. As we appreciate the wonders of the night sky, we need to be aware that darkness is decreasing and it’s important to acknowledge the increasing problem that the night sky could be fading away.
To celebrate International Dark Sky Week and to help raise awareness, by discovering the night, I am once again featuring some of my favourite Wonders of the Night Sky.
Wonder of the Night Sky : Northern Lights
This is my personal favourite Wonder of the Night Sky. The Northern Lights are an incredible display of light and colour in the night.
The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) in the North and the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) in the south are created by the reaction between the sun’s energy being released and colliding with Earth’s magnetic field. The charged particles are pulled toward the north and south poles and emit light during their interactions. The colour of the display depends on the reaction between different elements, causing a highly unpredictable display of light in shades of green, purple, blue and red.
The northern lights are susceptible to the threats of light pollution. This is because their intensity fluctuates and when light pollution drowns out the darkness, it would also inhibit any views of a weak to medium strength aurora show.
The ability to see the aurora depends on the strength of the show, having fairly good views of the northern horizon, and of course being located near or under the Aurora Oval. As light pollution increases the views of the night decrease. Since there are already very limited areas in the world that the aurora is visible, it makes protecting the night sky in these areas of utmost importance.
Wonder of the Night Sky : Noctilucent Clouds
The rare glowing clouds seen during a short time of the year are the next Wonder of the Night Sky. Noctilucent Clouds are a less known wonder of the night.
Seen during early summer, during astronomical twilight, these clouds are the highest in our atmosphere and are reflecting sunlight high into the night. I write more in detail about these fascinating clouds, here.
Due to the limited time of year and specific conditions required, this is one of my favourite wonders of the night to capture. Next time you see these beautiful glowing clouds, take time to stop and watch as you witness a beautifully rare sight.
Wonder of the Night Sky : The Milky Way
The next fascinating Wonder of the Night Sky is our home galaxy, the Milky Way.
The Milky Way core is Earth’s view of the densest parts of our galaxy. A region of stars and galactic gases that produce a distinct and visible band of stars in the night sky. This band is visible all year long on any clear dark night. Although areas such as the photogenic and dense core is not visible all year long in the northern areas. In Canada, the milky way core begins to rise above the southern horizon in March just before dawn. Gradually rising earlier in the night until fall when it falls below the horizon again.
Unlike the Aurora, the Milky Way is visible from anywhere on earth, there is no need to travel north. But dark sky with as little light pollution as possible is essential. Depending on where on earth you are, the view of the Milky Way will change, but it will always be there in some capacity. From a truly dark location the dense band of stars can’t be missed.
No matter what time of year, when you are far away from light pollution and look up to the stars, there will always be a region that appears more dense than the rest. That is the Milky Way. That is our galaxy and our view. That view alone is reason enough to try and reduce light pollution now more than ever for future generations to be able to enjoy this galactic view.
Going out stargazing can be a very therapeutic and refreshing experience. It’s part of our nature and loosing access to darkness is alarming. Unfortunately most people will have to drive away from home to see a true dark sky. But it is still possible to see in many parts of the world and hopefully we can keep it that way!
To stargaze, you want to be in the darkest area you can, with no moonlight or light pollution to block your view. In rural and remote areas the views are a lot better than anywhere near an urban centre. This is why in high density urban areas, there may only be a few visible stars. Not that the Milky Way isn’t there, it’s the light pollution blocking the view of the night sky that is the problem. This makes light pollution awareness and dark sky preservation important for stargazing.
Wonder of the Night Sky : The Moon
The moon in all its phases is a wonder of the night. The brightest object in the night can be viewed from anywhere even in the highest areas of light pollution. It’s a connection to the night for most people that can rarely see the stars.
On a consistent basis we can all see the moon rise and set, and light the way in the night. Even though the ability to see the moon isn’t currently under threat like other aspects of the night, it is still an important wonder of the night sky. The moon was the world’s first step into space, and will always be the most recognizable object in the night.
Wonders of the Night Sky : The Planets, Comets, Meteor Showers & Constellations
This takes me to the final collection of the Wonders of the Night Sky made up of the various constellations, comets, meteors, planets & deep space objects viewable from earth.
There is so much to the night sky, as a civilization we only understand a small fraction of space. Astronomy, is the scientific field of studying the night sky, it is an interesting and important field. The constellations of stars, other planets in our solar system and the deep and endless unknowns of deep space create an interesting mix to be studied and viewed. The views at night through, binoculars, a telescope, camera or by the naked eye can illicit feelings of imagination, curiosity and wonder. The identifiable and unknown all mixed into a cosmic backdrop to be enjoyed.
The light seen from space is constantly being studied and analyzed as new things are discovered and understood. Unfortunately the rise of mega satellite constellations such as Starlink by SpaceX are currently posing a high risk and threat to the ability for Astronomers to properly see space. Since 2019 thousands of low earth orbit satellites have been launched. The scary part is the lack of regulation and the current space race for global wifi could result to over 100,000 satellites in less than a decade. In just a few years it’s been a noticeable difference in the night sky, and without action this could be the beginning to the end of the night sky as we know it.
Not only is protecting our night sky important for the continued scientific advancements of Astronomers, it is also particularly important for society as a whole. The ability to stargaze and look up into a dark clear sky should not be a privilege to the few, instead it should be a priority for most as we are threat of increased light pollution and decreased access to true dark undeveloped areas of the world. As the threat of light pollution is more understood, we continue to see huge steps toward Dark Sky Preservation and an increasing interest in the night sky and all the incredible wonders it holds.
Every year since 2003, a week is designated and dedicated to celebrate something everyone on earth shares, the Night Sky. Known as Dark Sky Week, it’s a time to turn out the lights and look up at the wonders of night. The International Dark Sky Association invites everyone to “Discover the Night” this 2022 Dark Sky Week.
Keep our skies dark and together we can keep looking up into the beauty of night!